(Smug, conservative) Beauty and (Liberal) Beast

And here I thought Fox News found good looking blondes and molded them into conservatives.  But based on the research cited below, I now believe that they find good looking blondes who are already predisposed to a Hobbesian world view.  Bill O’Reilly is the exception that proves the rule, as they say.

Curiously, the beauty premium seems to be of most benefit to politicians on the ideological right. Niclas Berggren, of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, in Stockholm, and his colleagues recently performed the head-shot test on politicians from Finland, the European Parliament, and the United States. The more attractive candidates were not only likelier to have won their elections but also likelier to lean conservative. Why might this be true? Part of the answer may have to do with the effect that beauty has on the psyche. A pair of studies, one in 2011 and another in 2014, found that the more attractive people rated themselves as being, the less egalitarian they were in their outlook and the less they favored income redistribution. But it also appears that voters on the right tend to identify attractiveness with conservative views, and, when there’s little other information to go on, beauty plays a bigger role in their voting choices than it does for liberals.

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/vote-for-ugly

 

The Truth about Lying

“With repeated lies, the brain becomes less and less sensitive to dishonesty, supporting ever larger acts of dishonesty. “

The state of our political discourse has been getting worse for years, but the Trump administration brought our nation’s political discourse to a new low, father from what the “community of inquirers agrees to be true.”

Here are three data points to help you assess the level of risk to our democracy in the current disregard for the truth.

  1. Definition: Lying
  2. Little Lies, Pave the Way to Big Lies
  3. Lies Ledger

Data Point #1: Merriam-Webster defines “lying”

Lying





 



 

 

Data Point #2:  Neuroscience Research on Small Lies Desensitizing Speaker to Bigger Lies

NPR’s Morning Edition “Hidden Brain” segment summarized recent research as follows:

“With repeated lies, the brain becomes less and less sensitive to dishonesty, supporting ever larger acts of dishonesty. “


Data Point #3: The New York Times Lies Ledger of our President:


We may be a step function farther away from truth, as it was maligned in the Bush Administration’s attempt to mask their failures in Afghanistan and Iraq with, what Steve Colbert called, “truthiness”, when KellyAnne Conway argues for “alternative facts”. 

(see the bottom of this post for a transcript).


This isn’t new, but a larger trend in western liberal democracies.  Politicians have long used appeals to voter emotions to short-circuit voter rationality.  Perhaps it is just the brazenness with which they admit to doing this that is shocking.

“Never apologize,” [Aaron Banks, Brexit leader] said he had told Mr. Trump. “Facts are white noise,” and “emotions rule.” – [Quoted in NY Times profile, “Godfather of ‘Brexit’ Takes Aim at the British Establishment, 1/21/17]

The issue is talking versus “speaking,” a more crucial distinction than we have reason to think about until someone as linguistically unpolished as President Trump brings talking into an arena usually reserved for at least an attempt at speaking.  [John McWhorter, “How to Listen to Donald Trump Every Day for Years” OpEd.]


Transcript of Kellyanne Conway’s “Alternative Facts” truth claim.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What– You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains–

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute– Alternative facts?

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

–that there’s–

CHUCK TODD:

Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered, the one thing he got right–

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

–hey, Chuck, why– Hey Chuck–

CHUCK TODD:

–was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just falsehoods.

[Source: NBC Meet the Press, transcript of 1/22/17 show, emphasis added.]

Climate Change Will Impact Poor the Hardest, but the Poor Still Don’t Like Government Intervention

A recent Science magazine article developed probabilistic models of economic impact on US regions with climate change.  The short answer is the South and the Poor will experience the worst negative economic impacts.

The Times summary article is here and the graphic is shown below.

Economic Impact of Climate Change - NYT

Compare this map with the ethnic diversity map (immediately below) from my Barbell Nation post – they maps look by and large the same, with the exception of the north central states.

change-in-diversity-rates-wsj-2016-11-02

Now remember this as you read below.

But Why is that Also the Locus of Climate Change Denial?

Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land (New Press, 2016) is the best explanation of what she calls the “great paradox” of political beliefs contradicting voters apparent self interest.  Hochschild spent years speaking with Tea Party activists in Louisianna and eventually deduced a “deep story” of their political beliefs. Quoting here from the Times book review (Sept 2016):

Hochschild detects other passions and assembles what she calls the “deep story” — a “feels as if” story, beyond facts or judgment, that presents her subjects’ worldview,

It goes like this:

“You are patiently standing in a long line” for something you call the American dream. You are white, Christian, of modest means, and getting along in years. You are male. There are people of color behind you, and “in principle you wish them well.” But you’ve waited long, worked hard, “and the line is barely moving.”

Then “Look! You see people cutting in line ahead of you!” Who are these interlopers? “Some are black,” others “immigrants, refugees.” They get affirmative action, sympathy and welfare — “checks for the listless and idle.” The government wants you to feel sorry for them.

And who runs the government? “The biracial son of a low-income single mother,” and he’s cheering on the line cutters. “The president and his wife are line cutters themselves.” The liberal media mocks you as racist or homophobic. Everywhere you look, “you feel betrayed.”

Hochschild runs the myth past her Tea Party friends.

“You’ve read my mind,” Lee Sherman said.

“I live your analogy,” Mike Schaff said.

The first irony is that the Science article makes clear, these very people who oppose the Environmental Protection Agency, because it is part of the federal government that is enabling these “line cutters,” will suffer the most as the environment changes (see chart below).

Risking Temps Affect Poor More NYT

The second irony is that the people who express their outrage at “line jumpers” generally live in areas with the least ethnic diversity.  So while their percpetion of “line jumpers” is surely potent, the perception would seem to be mostly based on media images of distance US citizens vs. experiences with their neighbors.

Geek Out with the Science Article Graphics

The researchers multi-factor graphics are shown here.

F2.large

Read the full Science article, here.

 

 

 

OK, So Now What?…Reading List

now-what

Problem Statements

The state of our nation demands a new way of thinking about democracy.  I’m less interested in why the Democrats lost this election than to understand how we have come to such a bifurcated society.

A casual morning’s coffee reflection suggests a sobering list of structural problems, related but distinct, and each requiring a diagnosis and resolution.

  1. We seemingly lack an agreed upon collective identity as a nation, that contains and imposes normative standards on our sub-group conflicts.  Dewey’s The Public and It’s Problems (1927), assumed the boundary conditions of the larger “public” body, and focused his analysis on how we bring the rich, local, and contextual mutual regard of the small town to a great nation of 119 million.  In 2017, we are roughly three times that size (323 million).
  2. The “central tendency” of agreed upon truth that largely held in the 20th century is now gone.  By “truth” I mean agreement on the laws of the physical and social worlds — the facts — against which, strategies and tactics to change the facts could be debated (here I am using a loose view of Pierce and Dewey’s Pragmatist definition of truth is what inquirers agree is true at any moment in time).  Media elites – national and major city newspapers and post-war broadcast media – defined a generally shared narrow spectrum of what they agreed was the “truth”.  Importantly, the media elites actively managed this agreed upon definition of truth and the boundaries of who could contest their agreed “truth.”  Yeah, I know there are all sorts of problems with the above: (i) Is the Pragmatists’ definition of inquirers’ truth valid (ii) did the 20th century media elites really hold a central tendency of truth; (iii) if so, was that central tendency truth unbiased and representative of the entire society? (I think we all know the answer to this one).  While the central tendency of the conversation was distorted, the normative impulse to have a single conversation was important. Today, groups seem to be not just talking past one another but engaging in increasingly separate, intra-group optimized conversations.  Persuasion through rhetoric, logic and facts are no longer considered necessary (remember “truthiness” and now look at Trump, Kelly Anne Conway and climate change deniers).  There was a lower level of “talking past each other” than appears to be the case today.  The question is, was this true?  Is a single conversation good?  Is it possible to have a single conversation without the distortion of power?
  3. We don’t know why people vote the way they do.  People don’t vote their economic self-interest. So what motivates them?  If they are seeking to optimize something (but see below) what are they seeking to optimize? – Religious belief, social morality, collective identity, family and small group cohesion, …?
  4. Are our citizens rational? Even if they wanted to and claim to, can people calculate what is optimal for themselves? Behavioral Economics suggests that we are not; that we cannot calculate risk; that we cannot think strategically for more than a few minutes at a time.
  5. Can we put the genie back in the bottle?  Now that we are in this state of discourse and democracy highly corroded by market logic, can we ever go back to a stronger balancing assertion of social and political logic and power?

amsterdam-book-store

My Reading List

I have a few books on my Q1-2017 Reading List. What’s yours?

Arlie Hochschild Strangers in Their Own Land.

Five-years studying Tea Party friendly working class residents of one of the poorest and highest per capita Federal support recipient states – Louisiana.

George Packer. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

NYTimes review here.

J. D. Vance. Hillbilly Elegy.

See my review here.

NYTimes review here.

Katherine J. Cramer.  The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Nancy Isenberg. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

NYTimes review here.

Thomas Frank. Listen Liberal: Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People.

Frank argues that the Democratic party―once “the Party of the People”―now caters to the interests of a “professional managerial class” consisting of lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists, programmers, even investment bankers.

NYTimes review here.

Chris Hayes. Twighlight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.

David Brooks’ comments on the current state of American elites here.  This quote says its all:

Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this. (emphasis added)

We may not like the quaint paternalism associated with past elites, but implicit in Brooks’ contrast with today’s elite attitudes, paternalism has been replaced by a pure market logic of self-interest.

Matthew Desmond.  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

NYTimes review here.

Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer.  $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.

NYTimes review here.

Daniel Kahnemann.  Thinking Fast and Slow.  And for those who don’t want to read the must read opus, Michael Lewis’ recent biography and summary of Kahneman’s and his partner, Tversky’s work (The Undoing Project).

NYTimes review of Thinking Fast and Slow here.